Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kickin' it with Grandma


We are currently taking a day-long break in Oceano, CA, visiting with my grandma. We did go up to San Luis Obispo to meet with Charles Myers, who recorded our conversation for a monthly radio program he hosts on food and the environment.

Since the last time we wrote, we:

1) Got the skinny on the coolest parts of San Diego: Ocean Beach, which has its long-time organic food co-op, and Golden Hills, where we were hosted by some nice activist-types. Both areas are cool, as far as I can see, because the rents have held low over the years because of their proximity to airports. Even the beach-side resort potential of OB (as the locals call it) has been avoided because planes fly low overhead all day, keeping rich people at bay. Or so it seems.

2) Checked out two San Diego area farms: Tierra Miguel and San Pasqual Academy. The first is a biodynamic-ish farm and education center in an area of Indian Reservations, managed by a wise, soft-spoken man named Mil. The second is a rural school environment for foster teens which has an organic farm program run by one of the nicest people we've ever met, permaculturalist and conservationist Scott Murray. We also met with Mel Lions of the San Diego Sustainable Foot Roots organization, which is working to start an urban farm a la Alemany Farm. The nice people we met and the views we saw from the farms (desert hills, avocado and citrus orchards) convinced me that my nicknaming of San Diego ("Sandy Crap-hole") based on past visits as a child and while touring with bands was incorrect and un-founded. Sandy Crap-hole, you have been redeemed. (LA and SO-CAL drivers, however, remain jerks.)

3) Drove, stupidly, the scenic route from San Diego to our next destination, Thermal (in the Coachella valley near the Salton Sea). 'Stupid' because, while the route is no doubt scenic, replete with views of majestic hills and desert plant life, we couldn't see a darn thing because we started the trip at 5pm and it quickly got dark. Plus, we ended up (largely due to the darkness factor) taking an even MORE scenic route of curvy roads, but were kindly directed back on track by a friendly (if not overly inquisitive) Highway Patrolman.

4) Arrived at Flying Disc Ranch in Thermal. Long-time date farmer Robert Lower and newly inspired date farmer Christina Kelso (an intern turned full-time farmer and self-proclaimed "value-added farmer's wife") welcomed us with warm beds and hot tea. Our time at Flying Disc was half relaxation, half date farming school, half date tasting experience, and the remaining half (it was quite the stay) interrupt-athon conversations with Christina--there's just so much to say! Obviously, we had a fantastic time. Robert showed us around the farm, including a couple of conveniently early-flowering male and female palms (convenient for our cameras, since we aren't visiting at the normal pollination period for dates). Robert showed us what the pollination process might look like, which is like a punishment/whipping of the female flower with the male inflorescence.
I love dates so much that I'm tempted to return for the harvest time, to work from 5am to early afternoon--before the sun turns the landscape to a baking oven. Average temperatures during the summer are over 100, often hitting 110-120 degrees. You might see Robert or Christina at one of the many farmers markets they sell at, and if you do, tell 'em the hot tub was delightful in the winter, and that I look forward to a summertime dip in the pool!

5) Later, we went to another date farm, Pato's Dream Dates, run by Doug Adair, an old time farm worker who keeps his workers well paid, his land well tended, and his dates well flavored. Doug was a UFW (United Farm Worker's) union member and organizer since the early days, and shared a lot of the history and frustrations of long time efforts to achieve social justice for farm workers in California. As he reminded us: Cesar Chavez, always considered as an advocate for "non-violence", was actually an advocate for "non-violent struggle for social justice". Although he was a little pessimistic about the prospects of ongoing sustainable agriculture in the Coachella valley, considering issues of encroaching development, depleting water availability, and the entrenched exploitation of labor, Doug was a great guy with a great farm. And he gave us some dates for the road, which have been essential to our happiness. Thanks, Doug!

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